On Poetry III: ‘relations … higher than the naked eye of the cold reasoning intellect can discern at all’

  • Elizabeth Barrett


For the rest, to define the true nature of poetry, is as hard and perhaps as impossible, as to put the soul itself into solution: and we are apt to render it harder than it need be by confusing and confounding the motive faculty of the poet with his subject matter, and even with his forms of expression. My intimate persuasion is, that poetry is truth, primitive absolute and universal truth — but less truth in abstraction than in relation — and that above all, it is truth in emotion. Take a flower—! The botanist will tell you a partial truth of its petals — the geometrician another partial truth of its diameter — a painter, another partial truth of its form and colour — but the poet will tell you of it (if he can speak) something different from all these, larger than them all, … something which shall be recognised as truth by all men, and which shall strike into the deep relations of truth, octave upon octave, as far off as the soul can hear music. And if you tell me that philosophical truth has also its relations, I ask you if the relations of poetry are not different and higher, — more infinite and subtle, — finer than the naked eye of the cold reasoning intellect can discern at all. All indeed are equally the relations of God’s universe — but when the strings lie relaxed in the damp, we call them simply philosophical — and when they are tuned up to music, (as the loosest of all may be!) they are poetical.

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© Palgrave Macmillan, a division of Macmillan Publishers Limited 2000

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  • Elizabeth Barrett

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